Search Engine Optimization in 2020

What is SEO and How to leverage it?

This is an advanced SEO post for thought leaders and strategic decision makers. if you are a beginner in SEO, I suggest you refer to this Awesome beginners guide to SEO by Moz.

What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you think of SEO or Search Engine Optimization?

The majority of us take this as if they need to beat Google in their game in order to win with the SEO efforts.

Well, that’s not the case…

SEO is an ever-changing landscape, Nobody knows what’s going to change, so let’s begin with a three important fundamentals which will remain constant 

Google is Neither Your Enemy Nor Your Friend.

Think of SEO as a fair game, and you are playing against your Competitor and Search Engines are the referee. It’s a level playing field. Every keyword or topic you choose to rank for will open a new playing field for you. The search engine has no personal favorite, Google exist to provide the best information to its users. Their parameters to decide on the best information are not publicly listed. Marketers and SEO folks have been best guessing it over the years.

SEO is About People, not Search Engines.

SEO is about people. You Get better at SEO by understanding your user’s intent; target audience, information they search, phrases they use to search for that information etc. You get better at on page SEO by understanding your target audience. When you start understanding their world better than they do, this understanding reflects in your content. When you develop the content your user wants to read, there is a stronger bond, a fan following, trust which boosts all important metrics such as time on site, bounce rate, return visitors etc.  Developing a bond with your reader, subscriber is the first step in your SEO journey. Search engines will love you more when your visitors have a better experience on your website. 

Your Off page SEO is also about people. To really get best out of your link building and outreach exercises, you need to invest in relationships.

Google will Keep Reinventing Itself

It’s a constant fight. The only way for Google to survive is to stay ahead in the mad race. Google algorithm will continue to focus on delivering updated information to its users across devices, mediums, and browsers. Thousands of updates are released every month, some minor tweaks and few overhauls over the years. Nobody really knows how many ranking factors google has, savvy marketers make a best guess.

You need not spy on Google. That’s not your job as a marketer. You just need to be aware of best practices to follow and the mistakes to be avoided.

Your SEO journey should start with understanding the basics.

  1. You need to understand how search Engine interacts with your website.
  2. Technical SEO is real and has a significant impact on your Ranking.
  3. On page SEO is about user experience on your website.
  4. Tricking Search engine is getting increasingly difficult (Near Impossible)!
  5. SEO is hard to teach but easy to learn by doing.
  6. Its not a one size fit all solution, your website and competitive landscape is unique and requires a unique strategy

The Basic Building Block

This is a basic building block, if you already know a thing of two about SEO, you may skip this section.

1. Understand how Search Engine Interacts with your website

If you are not a technical guy, no problem. This is just a basic building block, You need to know that search engines provide an interface through which you can control how they view your website. If you already running a website, you might be familiar with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools or

Fuctions-of-a-search-engine

Take help from a junior most SEO guy in your team in accessing the  Google Search console account and submit an updated sitemap. Here is a quick audit should do-

  1. Run a Quick search “site:yourdomain.com” and see how many pages are indexed. In case any important page is missing in search index, check to make sure its part of your sitemap and not blocked in your robot.txt file.
  2. Ensure no Sensitive information is public.
  3. No gated content is crawled.
  4. Define URL parameters.
  5. Ensure No duplicate, Cloaked, or thin content is crawled.

You need to understand how robot.txt works. This Moz Article explains in detail how search engine interacts with your website.

2. On-page SEO is often ignored

Link building or reach out is overly glorified. One possible reason for this could be, most SEO folks are non-technical, and link building topics get you more eyeballs. What happens on your website is equally important, outreach efforts will yield results if you have an authority content, optimized speed, topical coverage, mobile friendly navigation and rich results.

What happens on your site after people land their is equally or more important. On page SEO is not keyword Stuffing, H2 Tags, or backlinking. Its more how you create a user’s experience after they land on your page. See how your visitors interact with your website

  • Can they find the relevant information for which they came to your website?
  • How this information is organized (Heading tags, visual presentations, page load speed, information architecture)
  • Do they feel safe, able to trust you for their email address, contact details?
  • Are they able to navigate through important pages?
  • Do you have more useful resources on the same topic to engage them further?

I found this Awesome checklist to get you started with On Page SEO, lets not recreate something when our friends at Ignite visibility have already created.

3. Understand the Technical SEO

If there is one element of your SEO strategy which can bring you quick results in 2019, its the technical SEO. The recent algorithmic changes indicates that factors such as Site speed, Mobile friendliness, Site security, duplicate content, Structured data, folder structure and XML Sitemap have a significant impact on your site rank. To understand various elements of technical SEO, follow this article from Bigcommerce and technical SEO content from Moz.

4. No Universal SEO Strategy

There is no universal SEO strategy. Your website is unique and different even from your nearest competitors. Before starting the SEO effort, you should run a self audit to understand

  1. Kind of business you have
  2. Your website’s Technical Stack
  3. Your Brand position
  4. Your website and business type (Local, multi-location, eCommerce, General Information website)
  5. Your strength (Content, Social media position)
  6. Weakness (Thin pages, speed issues, Technology stack)

Prepare to Win the SEO Battle in 2020

In 2018, Google Introduced Rankbrain. It’s a machine learning algorithm which keeps learning in real time from the user feedback signals (Time spent on the website, CTR, Bounce rate, Pogo-sticking). SEO in 2020 is evolved, the better you are able to serve the searcher’s need, more reward is on your way.

1. Its not about Keywords, Its about Topic

Create Evergreen content!

How many times did you hear this advice?

All keyword search advice miss a critical point.

Search engines value evergreen content from a website which covers a topic in entirety over a single comprehensive article focused on one keyword.

The secret sauce of long term SEO benefit is to create topical authority in your niche. You need to create in depth, well researched content and present it in a meaningful way. The user trust, site authority, and SERP ranking go hand in hand. There is no one thing without the other.

After the Panda update and subsequent uproar google released 23 Questions, which gives a clear insight into what an authority site looks like in Google’s eyes.

Panda update put an end to the possibility of gaming the SERP, Rankbrain took it to the next level. To understand how to create topical authority, you may refer to my detailed blog. This great blog from Search engine land also explains topical authority in depth.

2. Rich Results will evolve further

Rich results are a trap.

Mobile and voice are going to dominate the future of search, Google is gearing up for both.

The intent is to serve maximum information right on Google itself. The searcher will consume your content without visiting your website, which means less traffic coming to your website or app, less opportunities to monetize.

It’s your hard work and big daddy will gain. As an SEO, you need to focus on gaining the position zero, because if you don’t, someone else would. Heard of Prisoner’s dilemma?

A Savvy Searcher prefer organic results over the paid ones, and that’s the pain point for Google.

The UI distinction between Ad and Organic is fading. The whole above the fold is dominated by Ad and GMB Results. Google-ad-covering-entire-above-the-foldLocal Search dominance is losing the shine, you see!

Even when you are ranking for a keyword with commercial intent, Google ensure that you receive fewer clicks.

There are close to 30 mainstream rich results listed in the Google search Gallery, more might be coming. Here are few quick ones which might be useful for your website –

Articles

Article Rich results

People Also ask (Google Questions and answers)

People-also-ask-Rich-results

Events 

Events schema

Google Search Gallery is the best resource to learn how to implement the rich results. Implementing Structured data increases your chances of appearing in rich results, it does not guarantee it.

3. Website speed will matter even more

Website speed is a critical ranking factor. Google is rewarding pages which loads faster; an improved speed will have a positive impact on CTR as well. As per stats you lose up to 11% traffic by just one second delay in page load. Mobile Traffic share is already at 60% and rising, which means more emphasis on the speed. 74% percent of visitors abandon the page which does not load in 5 seconds.

Slow speed is a negative signal. The quality of your content does not really matter if you are unable to address the site speed issues.

4. Visual content will get Prominence

Visual content gets more dwell time, drives better engagement, more social shares, hence better SEO performance. You can use a variety of visual content such as videos, infographics, screenshots, graphs, images etc.

While visual content is not a direct ranking factor, an enhanced user experience means more engagement, reduced bounce rate, and repeat visits.

Do check this venngage blog to understand best practices for visual content.

5. Prepare your website for mobile first indexing

Mobile has taken over the web and there is no stopping. Google has rolled out mobile first indexing of the whole web in March 2020. This impacted websites which had separate mobile versions. like m.example.com. Refer to Google documentation about this here. You need to understand the impact of mobile first indexing on your website .

6. Authority Website Ranks Better

Google loves authority websites. 5 Most Important Characteristics of Authority are

Legitimacy

Dominance

An informal power

Rationality

Accountability

In order to decide your authority Google focuses on following three elements-

Element What it means How to Improve
Expertise Quality of your content Refer content to primary source.

Identify and align the purpose of important page.

Increase relevance, Cover a topic in depth, build a thought leadership

Align user intent and content formats

Build More user generated content, webinars, social media presence

Authority Who creates your content Increase authority of your content contributors. Build authorship, thought leadership, content creator’s credibility and reputation.
Trust How user interacts with your content Increase trust signals. Build trust on site and offsite. Repeat visits, time spent on the site, page views per visit are some of the trust signals

If you are operating in a niche, creating relevant and in-depth content will help you rank better for a search query. By covering a topic at length and breadth, you can rank one page for 1000s of related keywords, it increases the potential of getting search engine traffic.

How do you gain authority in your niche? Here is a detailed guide on how to become an authority in your niche

7. Local websites will get prominence in local results

If you are running a multi-location business, having a local presence matters. The location presence means a Google My business page for your location, local citations, Google reviews and more. If you have 1000s of locations, you can use the bulk location options to get local SEO boost.

Local SEO is a different game, customer trust, store visits, reviews, GMB presence and Content matters more than the web presence. If your local pack position is weak, you are likely to lose a significant chunk of traffic even if your website is raking for similar keywords in SERP.

9. SEO is a Long Game

Dear Fomo Sapiens, SEO is not for impatient souls, if you are looking for an overnight result, try Google Adwords or other PPC methods. Sustainable Long term SEO position is a result of  consistent efforts.

We are wired to overestimate the result of our effort in the short term, while we ignore the power of consistent long term efforts. Understand the  power of Long game Before  getting into the SEO turf.

10. From being in top 10 to reach Top 3 is a Different Strategy

If you website ranks in the top 10 for a keyword, that means you already have a strong signal for that keyword. You need a completely different strategy to jump from 10th to top three positions.

Quality of your content can help you reach in top 10, but from here you need to strategically build your backlink profile, analyse the backlink profile of your competitors and build a very strong signal for Google to consider your page against that of an authority website ranking already.